The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington

David Gergen

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Gergen calls on Obama to get tough

Author, professor and CNN analyst David Gergen spoke to a capacity crowd Thursday night in the Bluebonnet Ballroom. Gergen has been an observer, analyst and participant in American politics for more than 30 years. He said he has "been around the political track a few times and has seen 10 presidents come and go."

David GergenWell-known for his commentary on CNN, Gergen formerly served as director of communications for President Reagan and held positions in the administrations of Presidents Nixon and Ford. He counseled President Clinton on foreign policy and domestic affairs and was special international adviser to the president and to Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

In addition to his work on CNN, Gergen is a professor of public service and the director of the Center for Public Leadership at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is also editor-at-large at U.S. News & World Report. He also authored the best-selling Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton.

Here's what Gergen said:

The 20th century was the American century. He called it "The Rise of the West." But the next century will likely be "The Rise of the Rest," as China, India and Japan grow into powerful nations. Or, it could be "The Rise and Fall of the West," he said.

"We face great challenges as a nation," Gergen said. "And with the nation so divided, it remains to be seen whether we will have the courage to see it through."

The Obama inauguration had a "sense of magic." People came together from across all economic, racial and party lines in the historic 2008 election of President Obama. But that sense of hope has faded some, and people are disappointed and even angry. "The polarization that we saw under George Bush is stretched even further," Gergen said.

President Obama needs to be tougher. Gergen said President Obama is a nice guy, very likable and extremely intelligent. But the question going around the halls of power is, "Is he tough enough?" Gergen cited the example of President Ronald Reagan who dealt with the air traffic controllers strike by ordering then to go back to work within 24 hours or be fired, making it clear that it was unacceptable to "mess with the President."

The tone of political discourse in the country has grown coarser and more vitriolic. The Internet, which Gergen called a wonderful information tool, also "has become a sewage line, and the garbage is spilling over to the mainstream press."

There are many parallels between John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama. Both came into the presidency young and relatively inexperienced. JFK's first year was marked by the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. But he grew in office and by the time the Cuban Missile Crisis arose, he handled it with careful deliberation and prevented a nuclear war.

This country is in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In light of that reality, Gergen said he is surprised that business is underrepresented in government. There are no CEO's on the cabinet; no people who have built businesses, Gergen said. Business people, he said, are attuned to the second and third level of a decision's consequences. They focus on strategic planning. He also said the stimulus package was too much about writing checks and not about building infrastructure, as China is doing.

The Maverick Speaker Series continues at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 16, in the Lone Star Auditorium at the Maverick Activities Center, 500 W. Nedderman Drive. Jon Meacham, editor of Newsweek, who will discuss "War, Healthcare, and the Economy: Reflections on Obama's First Year."

Lectures are free to the public, but tickets are required. Click here for ticket information.